Armchair Travel: Poland

A Virtual Holiday in Poland

During these times of COVID-19, travel is not even a consideration for me. As someone with asthma, an auto-immune disorder, and enough health problems, I’ve become quite OK with being a hermit until the pandemic is over. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about travel, right? Now’s the time to dream about all the places I’d like to visit some day, and make a plan of how I’ll get there when it’s safe to travel again. One of the many countries I’d like to see before I die is Poland.

I recently wrote a post about Habitica and how this app has some fun challenges you can join. One of the challenges I joined for June was “Take a Virtual Holiday,” which had me researching a country I’ve always been curious about: Poland. In high school, I had a few friends from Poland who were a part of my regular circle. They taught me some Polish and I’ve always been fascinated with the language. While many people find it hard to pronounce, I find it very easy: we have many of the same sounds in Portuguese. For example, cz = ch; sz = j, ł = lh, etc. I would love to become fluent in Polish and travel to the country some day to put my skills into practice, and also to learn more about this country that most people take for granted, but that is quite beautiful from what I can see online.

Anyway, I figured I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about Poland during my armchair travels. I may do more of this eventually, for other destinations also. 

Firstly, did you know that Poland has some gorgeous beaches, beautiful national parks, and is even the site for the Capital of European Cartoons? You can also canoe through a route that will take you to many of Poland’s Gothic Castles, including the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, a medieval castle where “many of the conservation techniques now accepted as standard were evolved.” These are just some of the wonderful things you can do in Poland. I would definitely like to visit for real some day, but for now I content myself with completing the virtual holiday activities.

Armchair Travel: Poland, www.marianamcdougall.com Background photo: a waterfall. Wodogrzmoty Mickiewicza, Zakopane, Poland. Photo by Mariusz Słoński on Unsplash

The challenge I joined on Habitica invited us to do the following:

Read a book or watch a film set in your destination (Poland)

I won’t finish the book before the challenge is over at the end of June, but I borrowed Poland: A History from our library. It’s quite a long book so I’ll be taking my time with it. But I also watched “Ida,” a Polish film set in Poland. It was… interesting. The ending left me somewhat baffled. But I liked that it was shot in black and white, and I liked that the silent moments in the film really bring you closer to the characters.

Visit a virtual museum or tourist website from your destination (Poland)

I visited the Polish Tourism website to check out some of the places worth visiting in the country, and I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum’s website as well. Even going through the information and photos on the museum’s website is already a very sombre and heart-heavy activity. I can imagine what it would be like in person. I would one day like to visit Auschwitz. I think that this is an important thing to do for anyone who wants to be reminded of what can happen when we treat others as less than human. For anyone who truly wishes to embrace diversity and be at one with “the other,” this is a place that needs to be visited. 

Cook a dish typical of that destination (Poland)

I haven’t done it yet, but sometime this week I want to make pieorogies. I love pierogies soooo much; they are delicious. However, I’m also participating in a “try vegan” challenge, so we’ll have to adapt the dish a little bit. Here’s a recipe I found for a vegan version.

Other Challenge Tasks

One of the tasks was to make a list of things that you’d do on a real holiday to your destination, ad then find virtual alternatives. So I started looking for things I like to do: got to the beach and hike. Poland has some gorgeous beaches. If I ever did go to Poland, I’d want to spend enough time to really explore the country. I’d want to go to several different places. Here are just some of the places I’ve been dreaming about.

Sopot has a beach that features the longest wooden pier in Europe. It’s also a fun place to visit, with places like the “crooked house” and what looks like a really fun Aquapark.

I would definitely want to visit Warsaw. Some of the places I would want to see is Old Town and its market place, The Royal Castle, The Warsaw Uprising Museum (I also want to read a book about this soon), Corpenicus Science Centre, and more. You can read about each of these in detail in this excellent post by The Crazy Tourist.

I would be tempted to visit all the National Forests, too. Really, I just want to travel to Poland and spend a good few months there, getting to know the country. I do think this is a trip I’ll do solo (or with just Dan or adult children) one day, because many of the things I’d like to see relate to some very dark periods in history, that I don’t really want to share with my very young children just yet. They do already know about the holocaust, but I think facing its details is meant for an older audience—the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum even states that visiting the museum is not ideal for those under the age of 14. So I’ll keep dreaming, and maybe even planning a visit that will happen eventually.

Have you ever been to Poland? Which spots would you recommend visiting?  

Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development Tool

I have a new obsession. It’s called Habitica, and it’s become a huge part of my life for the last month or so.

I had been looking for a checklist app of some kind, so I didn’t have to keep re-writing the same tasks over and over. Bullet Journals and Day Books are fine and all, but there’s only so much time in a day. Sometimes we have to look for speedier ways of doing things. I used to have the app Home Routines on my phone and I really loved it, but once I left the iPhone world, I was out of luck: Home Routines does not have an Android version. In my search for a new checklist-type app, I had run across Habitica before, but I’m not a big fan of pixel art, so I had not given it the time of day. But eventually I decided to give it a shot, and am I ever glad I did!

Habitica is an app that turns your life into a Role Playing Game. Now, I have to be honest: I had never role played before, thought it’s always been an interest below the surface—something I wanted to do but never really had the time for. Habitica has allowed me to enter some role playing while remaining productive (and becoming even more so), and I’m loving it.

 

Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development & Productivity Tool, www.marianamcdougall.com

 

How the game works

On Habitica, you have a little character. As you complete tasks in every day life, your character earns Experience Points (XP) to level up and gold to spend on stuff within the game. You can also create real-life custom rewards that you can spend your gold on. For example, one of my rewards is to watch a movie, and it costs me 120 gold. So before I watch a movie, I have to complete enough tasks from my task list to earn 120 gold. You can set your rewards and how much they cost however you want, but the things to “buy” within the game cost a specific amount. You also have to buy certain things in a series before you’re allowed to buy more advanced equipment.

A fun aspect of the game are the “drops,” which randomly give you pet eggs, hatching potions, and pet food. As your character grows through the game, you can hatch and collect pets that you can then feed to grow into mounts. It’s a lot of fun doing this, at least for me—and it’s attracted the kids to participate in the game as well, which is awesome; they’re actually looking forward to doing their chores now, so they can go to the game, check things off, and get pets. This has been great because we loved ChoreMonster, but that company seems to have gone kaput, and we were looking for something to replace it. But truth be told, I’m enjoying this even more than the kids!

A new community 

The most valuable aspects  of this game for me are the guilds and challenges. Guilds are groups of people centered around a common interest or goal. Many of these guilds will have challenges you can join; there are challenges for almost anything you can think of. For example, I’m taking part in a challenge to read for 25 minutes per day, a challenge for scheduling a full week ahead of time, and a fun challenge about taking a virtual vacation. All of these challenges help me grow as a person and learn new things, as well as organize my life. For most of the challenges, you have to report back to the guild on whether you completed the activities or not, which makes you feel part of a group (and keeps you accountable).

For someone like me, who hasn’t been part of the traditional work force for many years, this aspect of the game has been invaluable. For example, while Dan is on vacation, I’m working full-time with my freelancing and blogging. One of the guilds does “pomodoros” together. We state what we plan to do for the next 25 minutes, and then we have to report back to say whether we did it or not. On Friday, I spent the day doing this. I was extremely productive while also feeling like I was part of a group of workers again. Even if there’s no one physically in the room with me, it still feels like I’m working “alongside” people.

 

checklist graphic

There are three types of tasks on Habitica: Habits, Dailies, and To Dos.

Habits are things that you want to develop a habit of doing (or stop doing). You can have positive and negative habits. For example, one of my positive habits is to put on lip balm, because I frequently forget to do this, and thanks to my super sensitive and dry skin, I really need to remember to do it. Every time I remember, I get to check that and get some gold and experience points for doing it. It’s a great motivator for me. I have a negative habit of raising my voice at the children. Each time I do it, I have to click the negative habit, which means I lose experience points and gold. It’s not as much a motivator to not do it as it’s making me notice how often I do it and helping me work towards better forms of communication.

Dailies are tasks that must repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. The important thing to note about dailies is that if you don’t perform them, you get “punished” in the game by losing gold, health, and if you leave enough dailies undone, you’ll lose all your gold, a level, a piece of equipment, and your character will die, so you’ll have to “refill health and try again.” In my dailies, I have such things as taking my medication, doing my physiotherapy, using assistive devices for my connective tissue disorder, and more.

Finally, To Dos are things that you only need to do once. For example, some of my to dos have been to put a letter in the mail or to create a new budget for my business (Budgets would be reviewed monthly/quarterly/year, but creating the new budget itself is a one-time thing).

Free Accounts and Paid Accounts

Habitica is free to access for everything I mentioned above. Paid subscriptions get a few extra perks, but it’s important to note that this game is not “pay to play.” You can access everything in the game from the paid account, but a subscription will give you fun things like the ability to purchase gems with gold. Gems allow you to buy certain things in the game that you otherwise would have to wait for a random drop for. These don’t affect your levelling up at all, they’re just fun little things to collect. There’s a few other extra perks as well.

Having said that, Habitica depends on subscriptions to continue running, so if you can afford to get one, it would be good to do so. I myself am considering buying the Groups submission, which allows you to assign tasks to people in the group, have a private chat, and other functionalities. This would be useful as a family to get stuff done around the house, and could even work as a chore chart that may be more effective than other things we’ve tried. I’ll keep you posted about my subscription purchase.

If you’d like to give Habitica, a try, visit the website here. If you want to learn more about the game and how it works, there’s a huge Wiki that will tell you everything you need to know.

Have you tried Habitica? What do you think of it?

What We Read During COVID-19, Part 1

Returning home after our  year on the road proved extremely busy, which is one of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging. With Dan working reduced hours, I also shifted focus to start pitching articles again so we can bring in a bit of extra cash. Finally, I continue to do user experience testing, which I really enjoy. It won’t make you rich, but the extra pocket cash does help—and it’s fun!

Continue reading “What We Read During COVID-19, Part 1”

Gratitude Amidst a Pandemic

The world looks quite different than it did three months ago. We have all had to adjust to a much different way of thinking, living, and doing business. Some of us have adapted well, some of us have refused to adapt, but all of us have been affected in some way by what’s going on in the world.

During these difficult times, I think it’s even more important to focus on gratitude and on the things we are blessed to have or experience. With that in  mind, I wanted to write a post about the things I feel privileged to have and grateful for.

This is my own experience. It’s not my intent to tell anyone how to feel. We all process grief differently, and this pandemic has certainly brought grief to all of us. For some, the grief is for the life we knew. For others, grief for the life with knew intermingles with grief for the passing of loved ones and is made even more difficult as a result.

Expressing gratitude is one way in which I can experience my grief and still be comforted. Whichever way you need to experience your grief is personal and only you can decide how to proceed.

Here, I’m sharing the things I’m grateful for as a way to process that even during this pandemic, even as a high-risk person, even as someone dealing with anxiety about being in public (ironic for an extreme extrovert…), even with all of that, I have much to be grateful for.

Living with gratitude during the pandemic, www.marianamcdougall.com

1. A big backyard

I’m grateful to live in a home with a large backyard, where I can walk and play with my children while not having to expose myself to potential contact with the virus.

2. My loving family

I’m grateful to live with my loving family, where spending time together is a joy.

3. Summer

The sunshine on my face makes it easier to bear the days of isolation. I already struggle in the winter, so I’m grateful that this is happening when I can have some sunshine.

4. A home (and our RV, too)

I’m grateful that we went on our adventure year before the pandemic hit, and that we decided to keep the RV even though we don’t have plans for long-term travel at the moment. The RV has been a great distraction for the kids, who play happily in it, pretending to explore the world while staying put on our driveway. I am also grateful for my home, where we can safely shelter in place.

5. Acceptance and safety

I’m grateful that despite being considered a minority by some, I feel accepted and safe in my community. I pray that all people can feel this way, wherever they live, and that the violence we see play out so often will come to an end.

6. Habitica

During the pandemic, I discovered the website Habitica, and it has brought so much joy into my life. I’ll write another post dedicated to the website, but for now, if you’ve never heard of it, look it up; you won’t be disappointed. It’s a habit-forming website that makes your real life tasks into a role-playing game. It’s a blast and it’s making me a better person.

 

What are you grateful for during this time?

Awesome Art Online

10 Places to Admire Beautiful Art Online

One of the things I like to do in my very limited spare time is to look at art online. Of course you can visit museum and art gallery websites, but one of my favourite ways to look at art is to go straight to the source. I enjoy looking at freelance artists’ websites and Instagram accounts and dream about the art I’ll add to my home some day. Here are just some of the places I like to look at art online.

Continue reading “Awesome Art Online”

Say Their Names

I had many posts planned for the next few weeks.

But it didn’t feel right to post any of those without first acknowledging what’s happening in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, and around the world in response to not only George Floyd’s murder (murder. Stop writing “died in police custody.” He was murdered.), but the inequities that keep Black people marginalized and targeted by police brutality.

Continue reading “Say Their Names”